Saturday, January 19, 2013

Road to Sundance 2013: Catnip: Egress to Oblivion? (short), directed by Jason Willis

Tell us about your film. What inspired you to make it?

My film is a 7 minute short entitled "Catnip: Egress to Oblivion?" and it will be playing in the Shorts: Documentary section of Sundance this year. Informationally speaking, it's a fairly straight documentary about the effects of catnip, but it's done in a faux late 1960's/ early 1970's classroom drug educational film style which allows me to play with a lot of the conventions of that era.

Ever since I was a little kid, I've been a fan of "metal hygiene" films (I was actually IN one when I was 7 years old -- a short called "Halloween Safety" made in my hometown of Lawrence, KS by Centron Films back in 1977), and I really enjoy the earnest and "functional" approach those filmmakers brought to their work. There's something there that I can't quite put my finger on that just always works for me. I mean, for sure, the people behind these films were generally very well intentioned, but because they made their work outside of the dominant film centers of the time (or with alternate talent behind their output) the results are pretty singular while also often seeming charmingly outdated/ histrionic sounding today. From the direction to the motion graphics to the musical cues to the acting, I swear that I can sit and watch those things for HOURS.

What do you love about your film?

It was really a ton of fun to do, so I'm not sure what I would leave out from the whole experience. The whole thing came together quickly and easily, and I got to work with a bunch of my friends and their cats when it came to shooting the footage for my script, so really all of that was just a great time from start to finish. I also really enjoyed mocking up the paperback books and black light poster type graphics to use in selling the whole "catnip scare" as a parallel to LSD or marijuana.

Oh! And I got a chance to write, sing & record a late 60's raga-rock influenced pseudo-psych song, which I tried to make as corny as possible (figuring that the ersatz band I cooked up, "The Electric Manx", would probably be a pretty low-rent outfit if they were willing to lend their talents to an industrial film of that era). So *that* was pretty fun for sure.

How long did it take you to make your film?

I got the idea over the May 28 Memorial Day weekend  and uploaded the finished short on June 26, 2012, so just a little shy of that timeframe. The writing came together pretty quickly, shooting was about 2 and a half weeks and, over the course of it all, I was plugging away on the graphics and post production work using programs like Final Cut Pro X, After Effects, and Photoshop.

How did you finance your film?

Well, I did most of the technical type work myself and the folks in it are all friends, so the entire budget for my film was $25 (which I spent getting catnip for the feline cast). So, you know, financing wasn't all THAT rough for me.

What was the most challenging part of the filmmaking process and how did you overcome it?

Heh, well these aren't trained felines or anything, and I foolishly wrote the script around actions and notions that I naively just assumed would be easily gettable, so there was a lot of "creative solution" work going on around that.

It, uh, also turns out that even the most talkative cat will tend to clam up when a DSLR is pointed at their face, so getting the "user testimonials" was way more of a challenge than I had counted on. But hey! They're cats! They came through for me in the end.

Tell us about your experience getting into Sundance.

Hah! I honestly am still having a hard time believing that it happened and the shadowy ways in which things like that go down remain a complete mystery to me. I can tell you about my REACTION though: total giddiness and stupefied jaw dropping, followed closely by a call to my parents, followed by several agonizing days where I couldn't tell anybody else and half assumed I'd be getting a "whoops, we sent you that email by mistake" follow-up. Seeing as how I still haven't boarded the plane for Utah as I type this, I am holding on to that possibility.

If you had to make the film all over again, would you do anything different?

Well sure! But since I'm guessing that most of my impulses (More cats! More "period specific" trippy effects! More heavy-handed dialogue!) are probably pretty misguided, the world will probably be better off for now without that going down.

Oh, and I'd probably spring for an extreme fisheye lens. In fact, I really oughtta do that anyway.

What’s next for your film? Do you have distribution? If so, when and how can people see it and if not, what are your hopes for the film?

I've got some stuff happening for digital distribution that seems pretty swell to me, I'll be working with a cool startup called "Elevision" who plan to create hand curated collections of shorts online. The guys behind it are really good dudes so I'm really looking forward to seeing what shakes out there.

Can you provide any advice to other filmmakers who dream of getting their films made and into Sundance?

Even without something as amazing as this Sundance opportunity, I can say that the entire experience here (putting it together, seeing the reactions from strangers after I uploaded it online, etc.) was just so much fun. The basic tools are really non-cost prohibitive right now as well, and so many aesthetic styles are now accepted as choices rather than compromises.  The whole thing feels very wide open in 2013 and it seems as though almost everyone has reached the consensus that this is just an amazing time to be able to play with almost ANY kind of media.

Hmm. I think that I might be saying "Holy crap everyone, if you want to do it you should totally just make stuff!" (but, you know, feel free to pretend that I was much more eloquent about it all).

WATCH CATNIP: EGRESS TO OBLIVION here:

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